If the present eludes you, delve into the past, goes an old saying. You’ll find answers to all your unresolved problems here. This has become even more important in this era of intellectual cynicism. But are we creating new models that future generations can emulate? Our mythological characters were fortunate when it came to this. The methods of evaluating and representing them were transparent. Just imagine, had there been social media in the age of Mahabharata, would this eternally inspiring epic poem assume the shape that it did? Had many diverse interpretations and stories been placed before him, even Maharishi Vyasa would have been confused.
For instance, when Gandhari decided she would wear a blindfold for the rest of her life, a section of feminists would have pronounced her decision as an insult to the identity and self-respect of women. Conservatives may have showered Gandhari’s emotions with the greatest accolades even as others called it out as hypocrisy. It is likely that the citizens of Gandhar would have got upset with the people of Hastinapur. In response, Hastinapur would have sung the tune of national honour.
Not just this, the Ekalavya episode in Dronacharya’s ashram would have been dissected on the basis of caste, class and community and riots would have gripped the subcontinent much before the battle of Kurukshetra. The incident with Karna would have met a similar fate. Not just this, Draupadi, who chose not to marry Arjuna but all the five Pandava brothers after the swayamvara, would have been used as a pawn between Panchal and Hastinapur. Possibly, the Pandavas would have lost her not in a game of dice but in a social media war!
In those circumstances, the war of Mahabharata would have either taken place earlier than it did or transformed into endless combat.
All this took place hundreds of years ago. Even if you look at happenings from 30 or 40 years ago, you’ll discern a clear difference between events which took place before and after the advent of social media. Let me begin with Operation Blue Star. So many factual and fictional audios, videos and accounts of the events would have surfaced that a section of society would have become a victim of irrevocable rage. Later, Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the demolition of the Babri Masjid led to riots across the nation. Had their videos gone viral, it would have made the blood of future generations boil. If you find this tough to believe, then pay some attention to the propaganda techniques of the Al-Qaida and the Islamic State. The alleged atrocities being committed on Muslims across the world, convenient interpretations of history and false dreams of a rosy future have claimed the lives of thousands of young people. In the name of peace, the way social media has been misused to imperil the entire world will leave future generations astounded.
I took you on this journey down memory lane because similar attempts to spew venom in our country have taken place in the last few years. From Akhlaq to Ankit, all kinds of falsehoods have been propagated. This is an era when instead of commiserating or mourning a death, it is seen as an opportunity.
The problem goes beyond just spreading communal frenzy. Making a profit and earning notoriety by fanning caste and communal fires has become popular. The kind of upheaval which was created before the release of Padmaavat was scary. Without even watching the film, a few people began raising the banner of communal intolerance and its fires engulfed more than half of India. Subsequently, doing a U-turn, the leaders of the Karni Sena said the film was not a cause for insult but a matter of pride. Now attempts are being made to stir up controversy over Kangana Ranaut’s Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi. Why is a country with a population of 1.25 billion held hostage by a handful of miscreants time and again?
Those getting aggressive on social media should keep in mind that the nuance between real and fake is being obliterated in this realm. Facebook has admitted it has more than 20 million fake users. It doesn’t even have data on how many of its users are genuine. Shouldn’t we be alarmed when a few computers can be used to create an army of trolls and intelligence agencies deploy this tool to destabilize other nations?
We’ll also have to understand that every nation has its own unique sensibilities and understanding of history. If we don’t respect these, the dust of history, where destroyed civilizations are buried, awaits us.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.
His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.